February 24, 2023, marked one year of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, but it seems nowhere close to culmination and has led to hardening of positions and strengthening of hyper nationalist narratives in both Russia and Ukraine. The conflict has seen fiercest battles in Europe since the Second World War, but more significantly, has impacted the global geopolitics in a manner, few other conflicts in the post war era have. The war is laying foundations of a new world order, as it has impacted Europe tremendously and in some ways the entire world.
It has impacted the global economy adversely, which was already struggling after the Covid shock. The economies of Ukraine and Russia have been hit adversely and the Eastern Europe and Central Asia is witnessing an economic contraction. The global inflation has sky rocketed, whereas the growth projections have come down. Vulnerable economies like Turkey, Egypt, and Sri Lanka have slipped into hyperinflation. Attempts by the West to turn Moscow into an economic pariah has created a global energy crisis, as Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, second largest exporter of oil, and the third largest producer of coal. Its collaboration with OPEC has pushed the prices of oil and gas upwards. In addition the conflict has created a food crisis as both Russia and Ukraine are amongst the largest producers of wheat and corn. It has created a crisis for many in Africa and the Arab world, as they have been dependent for food on these two countries.
Dent to the US’ status
The war severely dented the status of the US, as it followed its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Panic set in as Ukraine suffered initial setback when the Russian forces from Crimean Peninsula, not only captured large territory in the South, but its northern offensives from Russian and Belarusian territory almost reached Kyiv and Kharkiv. Faced with overwhelming air superiority of Russians, Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, requested the US for a No-Fly Zone over Ukraine. The fact that the US did not jump into the fray, created an impression that it was an unreliable ally. The US attempts to economically cripple the Russian economy were also not completely successful. Even its allies in the Europe were not on the same page about cutting energy imports from Russia. There were differences amongst them based on their level of dependence on Russian energy. China and India not only continued importing oil from Russia, but even increased it to benefit from discounted prices. The US attempts to bring down the energy prices by persuading OPEC to boost production, fell on deaf ears. Leaders of KSA and UAE even refused to take calls from the US President. Iran, eagerly waiting for the restoration of Iran nuclear deal, also started making fresh demands beyond JCPOA.
However, with time, the US salvaged its pride, by bolstering aid to Ukraine, and using the conflict to test new weapon systems by giving them to Ukraine. It has not only stymied Russian advance but also succeeded in trapping Russia into Ukrainian quagmire, by cajoling its European allies to provide Kyiv with advance weaponry including tanks. The US has also utilised its monopoly over the big technology to use social media for building global perception against Russia.
Chink in Russia’s armour
On the other hand, despite its initial success, the war has exposed the chinks in Russian armour. It was expected that Russia would attain its objectives within a week or so, which they have not been able to achieve, even after a year. Notwithstanding the rhetoric, the war does not bode well for Moscow. Although the western sanctions have not had the desired effect, the Russian economy is certainly not doing well. Geopolitically, the war has kick-started the enlargement of the European Union, a process that had been stalled since 2013. The EU had been sitting on the bids of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine; but the war compelled it to hasten the process. The invasion has also accelerated the Eastward expansion of the NATO. Russian offensive has pushed even Sweden, which remained neutral for centuries, and Finland, to apply for NATO membership. More significantly, the war has made NATO powerful at a time when it was losing its relevance, resulting in enhancement of defence allocations by the member-states.
The conflict has also hardened the stance of most East European and CIS countries against Russia. Many traditional Russian allies have exhibited neutrality in this conflict and are drifting away from Moscow. Only Belarus, amongst the former Soviet states, has supported Moscow in its invasion, but even its support seems to be dwindling. Moreover, Russia’s image has taken a beating from which it will take years to recover. Its powerful military has lost its sheen and failure to attain its objectives has exposed chinks in its armour.
Europe in Crisis
The conflict has highlighted European dissonance, wherein members approach towards Russia has varied depending on their economic linkages. It has not only enhanced Europe’s economic problems, but also pushed it into America’s lap. Ongoing media coverage of the battle has militarised European polity and contributed immensely towards bridging the trans-Atlantic divide. The war has destroyed any chance of Europe emerging as a powerful independent political entity not tied to the apron strings of the US. It has brought into open the inherent differences of European nations and has highlighted their dependence on the US for security.
The long-drawn war and the persistent western hostility have pushed Russia closer to China creating a marriage of convenience against the common enemy. Both have found a common voice on NATO’s eastward expansion and Taiwan. There is mutuality in Sino-Russian ties, with Beijing providing Moscow with economic and trade cushion while getting security and energy guaranties. This could result in Beijing’s emergence as a rival power centre to the US, with Moscow slipping into Chinese geostrategic orbit. The conflict has also diverted western attention away from China towards Russia, which allows Beijing to pursue its own agenda, unobtrusively. Fortunately, Russia’s failure to achieve a quick success, has deterred China from pursuing a similar agenda against Taiwan, but has increased its aggressive posture.
The response of Asian states has been interesting and a pointer to new emerging power equations. Most of them are hedging their bets and are unwilling to take sides. Many of them have withstood US pressure and are importing cheaper Russian oil and trading in local currencies. Both Japan and South Korea, which have close security ties with the US, and perceive themselves as part of global alliance of democratic forces, have condemned Russian invasion of Ukraine. Japan has territorial disputes with both China and Russia, but has flourishing trade with them. ASEAN has been fairly divided and has taken a fairly weak stance on the Russia-Ukraine war. Most dramatic shifts in Asia have been in West Asia, which has traditionally towed the US line. Syria, a Russian ally, has overtly supported Moscow, while others have been reluctant to criticise Russia. Immediately after the war, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and UAE declined to speak with President Biden, but took calls from the Russian President. The war has created a geopolitically fragmented West Asia, where Iraq is moving away from Iran, Qatar from Saudi Arabia, and UAE is pursuing a more independent foreign policy. Turkey has emerged as a big factor as, it has military muscle to back its allies, and controls traffic from Black Sea, which allows it a major role in revival of food exports from Ukraine. Though Iran is not directly affected by the conflict, it could emerge as a major game changer in the future. In spite of Biden’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran is still smarting from Trump’s insult of scrapping the deal and would not trust the US. It is far more inclined towards Russia and China led anti -US bloc. Similarly, KSA depending on the flow of the war would choose sides. It speaks of an erosion of US influence, at the expense of both Russia and China.
Attempts by the West to turn Moscow into an economic pariah has created a global energy crisis, as Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, second largest exporter of oil, and the third largest producer of coal
In South Asia, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has had wide reverberations. Pakistan’s economy has been deeply impacted by the war. Rising oil prices and the shortages of wheat, have taken it to the verge of default. Similarly, Bangladesh has also been deeply impacted by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as Russia is an important market for its readymade garments and a major source of wheat and millet supplies. Decreasing exports and rising import bill, coupled with a disruption of supply lines due to war and sanctions, have severely impacted the economy.
India’s balancing act
India has treaded a delicate diplomatic balance in the Russia-Ukraine war. It has withstood western pressure to take a firm stand against Russia. It has acted in its best strategic and economic interest by pursuing ‘Strategic Autonomy’, exhorting talks and negotiations to end the war and limiting itself to expressing concern on the humanitarian crisis unfolding. New Delhi has not issued any statement supporting or opposing Russian invasion, nor has it supported any sanctions. India needs to have access to cheap energy, which Russia is providing and that too at concessional rates. Moscow has been the major arms supplier of India, with 60 per cent of Indian weaponry being of Russian origin. The complex geopolitics of India’s neighbourhood dictates that India maintains its friendship and influence with Russia. Russian influence in Afghanistan, Iran and Indian interests in them require closer relationship with Moscow.
In trying to remain neutral, India has maintained healthy ties with Ukraine. It ensured evacuation of its citizens from active war zones and offered humanitarian aid to Ukraine. India has been affected by the rising oil prices and shortage of edible oil, which were primarily sourced from Black Sea. More significantly, Russia’s growing dependence on China and its ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ and ‘No limit Friendship’ are of grave concern to India, as it does not want to become a frontline state in a new Cold War between te ‘Democracies’ and ‘Authoritarian regimes of Eurasia’.
Benefit to China
China, of course, has been one of the beneficiaries of this war. The global gaze has shifted back to Europe, after a brief focus on the Indo-Pacific, which leaves Beijing free to pursue its own agenda. With Moscow leaning towards it, as a junior ally, it has probably succeeded in forming a bloc that could counter the US, their perceived common enemy. The conflict has also taught Putin some bitter lessons, who in his quest to take Russia back to the position of the erstwhile USSR, has even lost influence in its traditional backyard. Putin may redraw the map of Europe, but his gains will be eclipsed by the loss of Moscow’s long-term prestige and global image.
The war has affected global geopolitical and economic equations far more than is often realised and the long term impacts of shifting power equations could well shape a New World Order.